There’s glitz, there’s glam, there’s grit, but there is none of the pizzazz that any quick YouTube search of Liberace will show you the man possessed.
Behind the Candelabra
As a child, when staying at a motel or sleepovers with friends with premium cable, watching HBO always felt sneaky. You never knew what un-edited adult gem you’d come across. Watching Behind the Candelabra I was suddenly transported back to those days–and I’d hit the motherload. A behind the scenes look at one of the world’s greatest entertainers: Wladziu Valentino Liberace or, as the world knew him, simply Liberace.
Considering the man made a career of wooing and winning the hearts of many a purple-haired granny, his story wouldn’t seem to fit in with the typically nitty-gritty fanfare of HBO original films. But Behind the Candelabra, based on the tell-all book, can hang with the dirtiest of them. Bringing in HBO’s highest ratings since 2004, the film follows Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), who met Liberace (Michael Douglas), or Lee as his friends called him, when he was only 17. While Matt Damon can’t quite pull off 17, Douglas is a bit old to be playing Liberace anyways, but facial prosthetics (featured a bit too prominently in this film) aid in making him just like the original. With one tour of his gold-gilded home, a dip in the hot tub, and some words of wisdom from Lee about animals, “…they love you no matter what, that’s what makes them dumb animals, I guess,” and Scott is quickly on his way to being another one of Lee’s precious
The film moves quickly, not stopping to focus on the actual attraction between Lee and Scott, just jumping into the relationship. Between sex scenes Lee convinces Scott to have plastic surgery to look like him. He discusses adopting him. Scott develops a pill popping addiction, introduced to him by his scene-stealing plastic surgeon played by Rob Lowe. Before Scott knows it, Lee is over him, ready to move on to the next pretty young thing.
This is supposed to be Steven Soderbergh’s last film. He’s vowed to retire, and if that’s true it’s a shame he had to end it with a film that could only find distribution through premium cable television. Studios wouldn’t touch the film, afraid it was just too ‘gay’. And although the man denied his homosexuality up until the day he died of complications with HIV, he really was the most flamboyant entertainer in show business. However, being “too gay” is not the main fault I find with this film. Instead it’s the complete lack of romance, gay or straight. There’s glitz, there’s glam, there’s grit, but there is none of the pizzazz that any quick YouTube search of Liberace will show you the man possessed.
Michael Douglas recreates Liberace’s performances to the T, and his accent and mannerisms seem to be spot on, but he just doesn’t exude the sort of enchantment that kept Mr. Showmanship the top paid entertainer for 20 years running. There just doesn’t seem to be enough of Liberace’s theatrics and allure present to find him believable, as both an entertainer and a lover. And while Damon plays Thorson credibly naïve, his character’s immaturity doesn’t allow for much intimacy. The film picks up as the two become pitted against each other after the break-up, but then tries for an emotional ending with lukewarm results. Douglas and Damon give fantastic performances, just not the right ones.
Behind the Candelabra is a well-crafted film with two remarkable lead actors. It stands out among HBO original films and has enough dirt to satisfy 7 year-old me, but not enough genuine emotion to satisfy adult me. Too much shock, not enough awww, but a bold last go from Steven Soderbergh. A man who will continue to keep us wanting more.